Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The pungent smell of pines

Eight years ago, we were living in a small house in a dark canyon in northern Washington.

Between ranch jobs, we were renting the little place that had been built 80 years before, and which sat on a few acres, hosting a rickety relic of a barn. We fixed up a stall in the barn for Shadow, my horse, got a goat to keep him company, crafted a ramp up into the stall from the corral we'd fashioned from our own Powder River stock panels. We were home, at least for a few months.

Frugality was the word of the day, and frugal we were. Tossing chunks of pine through an access window, we filled a basement room with firewood we'd cut on the nearby National Forest lands, and kept the wood heater down there humming.

On the coldest nights, I'd leave the door to the basement open, so the heat would more easily creep up the ladder that accessed those netherlands. It was a sloping ladder/stair affair, crafted possibly by some past hippie renters. No one with any common sense would have built this contraption!

One evening, my husband arose in the dark to go to the bathroom down the hall. Our old Border Collie dog, deaf and almost blind, was lying in the hallway at the top of the cellar stairs, since the door was open and the heat was wafting up from the percolating woodstove below. In an effort to keep the electric bill as low as possible, I'd turned off the single light bulb hanging from the ceiling below, even though, for safety reasons, I'd been cautioned not to by my pragmatic cowboy spouse.

In the darkness, my husband tripped over the dog, put his left hand out to steady himself on the wall, only to find where he was hoping to stabilize himself was actually the open doorway! He fell straight down into the cellar onto the concrete floor below. I found him sprawled down there, at the bottom of the ladder, instructing me to call the paramedics because he could not move without excrutiating pain.

He'd broken the top of his femur, at the hip, in four places. He was in bad shape.

Days later, when I brought him home from the hospital, he was wheelchair-bound, unless when he was sleeping or resting in the recliner in the living room. He progressed slowly, from the wheelchair, to a walker, to crutches. It was a very long, difficult winter.

Due to the surrounding, deep snow in an area known as "Early Winters," he was housebound and would wheel himself to the kitchen windows, which were lower and allowed him to see a bit of what was going on outside. I knew his days had to be long and boring, so whenever I went anywhere, even just out to the barn, I would come back and tell him all the details. To provide a few dollars, I was driving draft teams at a local lodge, pulling bobsleds-full of tourists up through the mountains under the stars of a winter night.

I knew that he would smell the horses and the hay on my clothes and in my hair when I came home, and that I could bring the world in to him, make it come alive, by telling stories of all I'd seen. When I'd go out to the ramshackle barn and be with Shadow, clean his stall and feed him, play with the goat, I'd come back in with stories of squirrels I'd spied, footprints, any little thing that would keep my husband interested and entertained.

Today, now I'm the one who doesn't get out much.

The other day, my dog Mickey jumped up on the bed with me as I rested, and he nuzzled my neck. I smelled such a strong pungency of pine needles. It was heaven. I breathed in deeply, nuzzling him back, and enhaled the scents of the foothill woods outside our door. He transported me in a way he was certainly not aware. What a delirious and heady scent of needles and pine cones and fresh air encircled Mickey's neck!

You get things where you find them.

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